Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Today’s tax climate, OECD Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plans, 2014 changes to the OECD Model Tax Convention re: “Beneficial Ownership” (refer to 22 July 2014 post), and General Anti-Abuse Rules (GAAR) all focus on increased substance of activities in an entity, versus pure legal form, to derive relevant treaty benefits.

A recent Austrian Administrative High Court decision (VwGH 26/6/2014, 2011/15/0080-13) focused on the EU Parent-Subsidiary Directive (PSD) re: “directive shopping.”  There were dividend distributions from an Austrian company to a pure holding company in Cyprus with no people or physical assets. Withholding tax was paid by the Austrian company, with a refund claimed by the Cypriot company in accordance with the EU PSD.  (Note the Cypriot company had a Russian shareholder, for which direct distributions from Austria to Russia would not have the benefit of the EU PSD.)

The High Court, confirming the tax authority’s view, stated the Cypriot company structure was abusive.  Accordingly, the withholding tax refund application of the Cypriot company was denied.

The substance vs. form application of the case highlights the potential withholding tax issues for a pure holding company located in a tax favorable jurisdiction.  Thus, all holding company structures should be reviewed under current law, and most importantly with respect to future international tax changes focusing on the proper substance to receive treaty benefits.

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